Looking for Hero HR Strategies? Two Words to Save $10 Billion

flu season sick policies

Stay home.

That's it.

The two words that can save your organization a bundle: stay home.

Tell your employees that when they have the flu (or anything communicable) that makes coming into work a transmission risk, they have your unequivocal support to practice the two-word gospel.

Stay home.

It seems so simple. But it's not.

Many employers have a complicated relationship with sick days. On one hand, we recognize the importance of containing germs. On the other, we're less forthright when said germs coincide with an important deadline or big project. As a result, we send mixed messages around whether the use of a sick day signals weakness or a general lack of commitment to the job. Is it any wonder people show up with a fever of 101 and a box of tissues?

Just one infected employee can keep a bug in business at your workplace for weeks. And not surprisingly, organizations lose billions of dollars each year to the flu alone. And still, employees are coming to work sick -- 40% with the flu said so.

So when it comes to contagions, no matter what the event, the answer has to always be the same.

Stay. Home.

Got the flu and an important client meeting? Stay home (side note: how much will your clients love you if you send them the flu?)

Big presentation? Stay home.

Giant deadline? Stay home.

Long-planned event? Stay home.

Admittedly, this may be a bigger issue for the older contingent in our workforces, the ones who came of professional age in the 1980s and early 1990s when she/he who falls over first wins. Calling in sick was simply not done. One long-ago boss demanded  I rouse myself from my strategic spot on the bathroom floor because she didn't know how to work the fax machine.  I'll let you guess how many people came down with my stomach bug the following week (that my boss was among them was not unsatisfying). Such aversion to sick days is not an affliction we want to share.

Granted, successful sick days will require some planning, specifically:

  • Write down policies in handbooks
  • Confirm that company messaging and compliance are consistent top to bottom
  • Ensure contingency plans for projects and client meetings are shared among teams to account for absent colleagues
For those who worry about an epidemic of hooky: Don't. Trust that your hiring process weeded out folks who aren't committed to the job. Believe that an employee who abuses the privilege will be obvious. And remember that engaged employees will come back twice as strong when recovered.

We need to make it ok to be legitimately, clearly sick. "If you're sick, stay home," one doctor bluntly told NBC news. "Employers, tell your employees if they're sick, stay home."

Your bottom line will thank you.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.